The Bright Messenger, by Algernon Blackwood

Chapter 11

THE meeting with Dr. Fillery and his friends, the Khilkoffs, father and daughter, had, for one reason or another, to be postponed for a week, during which brief time even, no single day wasted, LeVallon’s education proceeded rapidly. He was exceedingly quick to learn the usages of civilized society in a big city, adapting himself with an ease born surely of quick intelligence to the requirements and conventions of ordinary life.

In his perception of the rights of others, particularly, he showed a natural aptitude; he had good manners, that is, instinctively; in certain houses where Fillery took him purposely, he behaved with a courtesy and tact that belong usually to what England calls a gentleman. Except to Fillery and Devonham, he talked little, but was an excellent and sympathetic listener, a quality that helped him to make his way. With Mrs. Soames, the stern and even forbidding matron, he made such headway, that it was noticed with a surprise, including laughter. He might have been her adopted son.

“She’s got a new pet,” said Devonham, with a laugh. “Mason taught him well. His aptitude for natural history is obvious; after a few years’ study he’ll make a name for himself. The ‘N.H.’ side will disappear now more and more, unless you stimulate it for your own ends “ He broke off, speaking lightly still, but with a carelessness some might have guessed assumed.

“You forget,” put in his Chief, “I promised.”

Devonham looked at him shrewdly. “I doubt,” he said, “whether you can help yourself, Edward,” the expression in his eyes for a moment almost severe,

Fillery remained thoughtful, making no immediate reply.

“We must remember,” he said presently, “that he’s now in the quiescent state. Nothing has again occurred to bring ‘N.H.’ uppermost again.”

Devonham turned upon his friend. “I see no reason why ‘N.H.’” he spoke with emphasis “should ever get uppermost again. In my opinion we can make this quiescent state LeVallon the permanent one.”

“We can’t keep him in a cage like Mrs. Soames’s mice and parrot. Are you, for instance, against my taking him to the Studio? Do you think it’s a mistake to let him meet the Prometheans?”

“That’s just where Mason went wrong,” returned Devonham. “He kept him in a cage. The boy met only a few peasants, trees, plants, animals and birds. The sun, making him feel happy, became his deity. The rain he hated. The wind inspired and invigorated him. If we now introduce the human element wisely, I see no danger. If he can stand the Khi the Studio and the Prometheans, he can stand anything. He may be considered cured.”

The door opened and a tall, radiant figure with bright eyes and untidy shining hair came into the room, carrying an open book.

“Mrs. Soames says I’ve nothing to do with stars,” said a deep musical voice, “and that I had better stick to animals and plants. She says that star-gazing never was good for anyone except astronomers who warn us about tides, eclipses and dangerous comets.”

He held out the big book, open at an enlarged stellar photograph. “What, please, is a galaxy, a star that is suddenly brilliant, then disappears in a few weeks, and a nebula?”

Before either of the astonished men could answer, LeVallon turned to Devonham, his face wearing the gravity and intense curiosity of a child. “And, please, are you the only sort of being in the universe? Mrs. Soames says that the earth is the only inhabited place. Aren’t there other beings besides you anywhere? The Earth is such a little planet, and the solar system, according to this book, is one of the smallest too.”

“My dear fellow,” Devonham said gently, “do not bother your head with useless speculations. Our only valuable field of study is this planet, for it is all we know or ever can know. Whether the universe holds other beings or not, can be of no importance to us at present.”

LeVallon stared fixedly at him, saying nothing. Something of his natural radiance dimmed a little. “Then what are all these things that I remember I’ve forgotten?” he asked, his blue eyes troubled.

“It will take you all your lifetime to understand beings like me, and like yourself and like Dr. Fillery. Don’t waste time speculating about possible inhabitants in other stars.”

He spoke good-humouredly, but firmly, as one who laid down certain definite lines to be followed, while Dr. Fillery, watching, made no audible comment. Once long ago he had asked his own father a somewhat similar question.

“But I shall so soon get to the end of you,” replied LeVallon, a disappointed expression on his face. “I may speculate then?” he asked.

“When you get to the end of me and of yourself and of Dr. Fillery yes, then you may speculate to your heart’s content,” said Devonham in a kindly tone. “But it will take you longer than you think perhaps. Besides, there are women, too, remember. You will find them more complicated still.”

A curious look stole into the other’s eager eyes. He turned suddenly towards the older man who had his confidence so completely. There was in the movement, in the incipient gesture that he made with his arms, his hands, almost with his head and face as well, something of appeal that set the doctor’s nerves alert. And the change of voice it was lower now and more musical than before increased the nameless message that flashed to his brain and heart. There was a hint of song, of chanting almost, in the tone. There was music in him. For the voice, Fillery realized suddenly, brought in the over-tones, somewhat in the way good teachers of singing and voice production know. There was the depth, sonority, singing quality which means that the “harmonics” are made audible, as with a violin played in perfect tune. The sound seemed produced not by the vocal cords alone, but by the entire being, so to speak. Yet, “LeVallon’s” voice had not this rich power, he noticed. Its appearance was a sign that “N.H.” was stirring into activity and utterance.

“Women, yes,” the young man repeated to himself. “Women bring back something. Their eyes make me remember “ he turned abruptly to the open book upon the doctor’s knee. “It’s something to do with stars, these memories,” he went on eagerly, the voice resonant. “Stars, women, memories . . . where are they all gone to . . .? Why have I lost . . .? What is it that . . .?”

It seemed as if a veil passed from his face, a thin transparency that dimmed the shining effect his hair and eyes and radiant health produced. A far-away expression followed it.

“‘N.H.’!” Devonham quickly flashed the whispered warning. And in the same instant, Fillery rose, holding out the open book.

“Come, LeVallon,” he said, putting a hand upon his shoulder, “we’ll go into my room for an hour, and I’ll tell you all about the galaxies and nebulae. You shall as’— as many questions as you like. Devonham is a very busy man and has duties to attend to just now.”

He moved across to open the door, and LeVallon, his face changing more and more, went with him; the light in his eyes increased; he smiled, the far-away expression passed a little.

“Dr. Devonham is quite right in what he says about useless speculations,” continued Fillery, as they went out arm in arm together, “but we can play a bit with thought and imagination, for all that you and I. ‘Let your thought wander like an insect which is allowed to fly in the air, but is at the same time confined by a thread.’ Come along, we’ll have an hour’s play. We’ll travel together among the golden stars, eh?”

“Play!” exclaimed the youth, looking up with flashing eyes. “Ah! in the Spring we play! Our work with sap, roots, crystals, fire, all finished out of sight, so that their results followed of their own accord.” He was talking at great speed in a low voice, a deep, rolling voice, and half to himself. “Spring is our holiday, the forms made perfect and ready for the power to rush through, and we rush with it, playing everywhere —”

“Spring is the wine of life, yes,” put in Fillery, caught away momentarily by something behind the words he listened to, as though a rhythm swept him. “Creative life racing up and flooding into every form and body everywhere. It brings wonder, joy play, as you call it.”

“We we build the way “ The youth broke off abruptly as they reached the study door. Something flowed down and back in him, emptying face and manner of a mood which had striven for utterance, then passed. He returned to the previous talk about the stars again:

“Who attends to them? Who looks after them?” he inquired, a deep, peculiar interest in his manner, his eyes turning a little darker.

“What we call the laws of Nature,” was the reply, “which are, after all, merely our ‘descriptive formulae summing up certain regularities of recurrence,’ the laws under which they were first set alight and then sent whirling into space. Under these same laws they will all eventually burn out and come to rest. They will be dead.”

“Dead,” repeated the other, as though he did not understand. “They are the children of the laws,” he stated, rather than asked. “Are the laws kind and faithful? They never tire?”

Fillery explained with one-half of his nature, and still as to a child. The other half of him lay under firm restraint according to his promise. He outlined in general terms man’s knowledge of the stars. “The laws never tire,” he said.

“But the stars end! They burn out, stop, arid die! You said so.”

The other replied with something judicious and cautious about time and its immense duration. But he was startled.

“And those who attend to the laws,” came then the words that startled him, “who keeps them working so that they do not tire?”

It was something in the tone of voice perhaps that, once again, produced in his listener the extraordinary sudden feeling that Humanity was, after all, but an insignificant, a microscopic detail in the Universe; that it was, say, a mere ant-heap in the colossal jungle crowded with other minuter as well as immenser life of every sort and kind, and, moreover, that “N.H.” was aware of this “other life,” or at least of some vast section of it, and had been, if he were not still, associated with it. The two letters by which he was designated acquired a deeper meaning than before.

A rich glow came into the young face, and into the eyes, growing ever darker, a look of burning; the skin had the effect of radiating; the breathing became of a sudden deep and rhythmical. The whole figure seemed to grow larger, expanding as though it extended already and half filled the room. Into the atmosphere about it poured, as though heat and light rushed through it, a strange effect of power.

“You’d like to visit them, perhaps wouldn’t you?” asked Fillery gently.

“I feel “ began the other, then stopped short.

“You feel it would interest you,” the doctor helped then saw his mistake.

“I feel,” repeated the youth. The sentence was complete. “I am there.”

“Ah! when you feel you’re there, you are there?”

The other nodded.

He leaned forward. “I know,” he whispered as with sudden joy. “You help me to remember, Fillery.” The voice, though whispering, was strong; it vibrated full of over-tones and under-tones. The sound of the “F” was like a wind in branches. “You wonderful, you know too! It is the same with flowers, with everything. We build with wind and fire.” He stopped, rubbing a hand across his forehead a moment. “Wind and fire,” he went on, but this time to himself, “my splendid mighty ones. . . . ” Dropping his hand, he flashed an amazing look of enthusiasm and power into his companion’s face. The look held in concentrated form something of the power that seemed pulsing and throbbing in his atmosphere. “Help me to remember, dear Fillery,” his voice rang out aloud like singing. “Remember with me why we both are here. When we remember we can go back where we belong.”

The glow went from his face and eyes as though an inner lamp had been suddenly extinguished. The power left both voice and atmosphere. He sank back in his chair, his great sensitive hands spread over the table where the star charts lay, as through the. open window came the crash and clatter of an aeroplane tearing, like some violent, monstrous insect, through the sunlight.

A look of pain came into his eyes. “It goes again. I’ve lost it.”

“We were talking about the stars and the laws of Nature,” said Fillery quickly, though his voice was shaking, “when that noisy flying-machine disturbed us.” He leaned over, taking his companion’s hand. His heart was beating. He smelt the open spaces. The blood ran wildly in his veins. It was with the utmost difficulty he found simple, common words to use. “You must not ask too much at once. We will learn slowly there is so much we have to learn together.”

LeVallon’s smile was beautiful, but it was the smile of “LeVallon” again only.

“Thank you, dear Fillery,” he replied, and the talk continued as between a tutor and his backward pupil. . . . But for some time afterwards the “tutor’s” mind and heart, while attending to LeVallon now, went travelling, it seemed, with “N.H.” There was this strange division in his being . . . for “N.H.” appealed with power to a part of him, perhaps the greatest, that had never yet found expression, much less satisfaction.

Many a talk together of this kind, with occasional semi-irruptions of “N.H.,” he had already enjoyed with his new patient, and LeVallon was by now fairly well instructed in the general histo’ry of our little world, briefly but picturesquely given. Evolution had been outlined and explained, the rise of man sketched vividly, the great war, and the planet’s present state of chaos described in a way that furnished a clear enough synopsis of where humanity now stood. LeVallon was able to hold his own in conversation with others; he might pass for a simple-minded but not ill-informed young man, and both Paul Devonham and Edward Fillery, though each for different reasons, were, therefore, well satisfied with the young human being entrusted to their care, a human being to be eventually discharged from the Home, healed and cured of extravagances, made harmonious with himself, able to make his own way in the world alone. To Devonham it appeared already certain that, withm a reasonable time, LeVallon would find himself happily at home among his fellow kind, a normal, even a gifted young man with a future before him. “N.H.” would disappear and be forgotten, absorbed back into the parent Self. To his colleague, on the other hand, another vision of his future opened. Sooner or later it was LeVallon that would disappear and “N.H.” remain in full control, a strange, possibly a new type of being, not alone marvellously gifted, but who might even throw light upon a vista of research and knowledge hitherto unknown to humanity, and with benefits for the Race as yet beyond the reach of any wildest prophecy.

Both men, therefore, went gladly with him to the Khilkoff Studio that early November afternoon, anxious to observe him, his conduct, attitude, among the curious set of people to be found there on the Prometheans’ Society day, and to note any reactions he might show in such a milieu. Each felt fully justified in doing so, though they would have kept an ordinary “hysterical” patient safely from the place. LeVallon, however, betrayed no trace of hysteria in any meaning of the word, big or little; he was stable as a navvy, betraying no undesirable reaction to the various well-known danger points. The visit might be something of an experiment perhaps, but an experiment, a test, they were justified in taking. Yet Devonham on no account would have allowed his chief to go alone. He had insisted on accompanying them.

And to both men, as they went towards Chelsea, their quiet companion with them, came the feeling that the visit might possibly prove one of them right, the other wrong. Fillery expected that Nayan Khilkoff alone, to say nothing of the effect of the other queer folk who might be present, must surely evoke the “N.H.” personality now lying quiescent and inactive below the threshold of LeVallon. The charm and beauty of the girl he had never known to fail with any male, for she Rad that in her which was bound to stimulate the highest in the opposite sex. The excitement of the wild, questing, picturesque, if unbalanced, minds who would fill the place, must also, though in quite another way, affect the real self of anyone who came in contact with their fantastic and imaginative atmosphere. Attraction or repulsion must certainly be felt. He expected at any rate a vital clue.

“Ivan Khilkoff,” he told LeVallon, as they went along in the car, “is a Russian, a painter and sculptor of talent, a good-hearted and silent sort of old fellow, who has remained very poor because he refuses to advertise himself or commercialize his art, and because his work is not the kind of thing the English buy. His daughter, Nayan, teaches the piano and Russian. She is beautiful and sweet and pure, but of an independent and rather impersonal character. She has never fallen in love, for instance, though most men fall in love with her. I hope you may like and understand each other.”

“Thank you,” said LeVallon, listening attentively, but with no great interest apparently. “I will try very much to like her and her father too.”

“The Studio is a very big one, it is really two studios knocked into one, their living rooms opening out of it. One half of the place, being so large, they sometimes let out for meetings, dances and that sort of thing, earning a little money in that way. It is rented this evening by a Society called the Prometheans a group of people whose inquisitive temperaments lead them to believe, or half believe —”

“To imagine, if not deliberately to manufacture,” put in Devonham.

“to imagine, let us call it,” continued the other with a twinkle, “that there are other worlds, other powers, other states of consciousness and knowledge open to them outside and beyond the present ones we are familiar with.”

“They know these?” asked LeVallon, looking up with signs of interest. “They have experienced them?”

“They know and experience,” replied Fillery, “according to their imaginations and desires, those with a touch of creative imagination claiming the most definite results, those without it being merely imitative. They report their experiences, that is, but cannot or rarely show tne results to others. You will hear their talk and judge accordingly. They are interesting enough in their way. They have, at any rate, one thing of value that they are open to new ideas. Such people have existed in every age of the world’s history, but after an upheaval, such as the great war has been, they become more active and more numerous, because the nervous system, reacting from a tremendous strain, produces exaggeration. Any world is better than an uncomfortable one in revolution, they think. They are, as a rule, sincere and honest folk. They add a touch of colour to the commonplace —”

“Tuppence coloured,” murmured Devonham below his breath,

“And they believe so much in other worlds to conquer, other regions, bigger states of consciousness, other powers,” concluded Fillery, ignoring the interruption, “that they are half in this world, half in the next. Hence Dr. Devonham’s name, the name by which he sometimes laughs at them of Half Breeds.”

LeVallon’s eyes, he saw, were very big; his interest and attention were excited.

“They will probably welcome you with open arms,” he added, “if you care to join them. They consider themselves pioneers of a larger life. They are not mere spiritualists oh no! They are familiar with all the newest theories, and realize that an alternative hypothesis can explain all so-called psychic phenomena without dragging spirits in. It is in exaggerating results they go mostly wrong.”

“Eccentrics,” Devonham remarked, “out of the circle, and hysterical to a man. They accomplish nothing. They are invariably dreamers, usually of doubtful morals and honesty, and always unworthy of serious attention. But they may amuse you for an hour.”

“We all find it difficult to believe what we have never experienced,” mentioned Fillery, turning to his colleague with a hearty laugh, in which the latter readily joined, for their skirmishes usually brought in laughter at the end. Just now, moreover, they were talking with a purpose, and it was wise and good that LeVallon should listen and take in what he could hearing both sides. He watched and listened certainly with open eyes and ears, as he sat between them on the wide front seat, but saying, as usual, very little.

The car turned down a narrow lane with slackening speed and slowed up before a dingy building with faded Virginia creepers sprawling about stained dirty walls. The neighbourhood was depressing, patched and dishevelled, and almost bordering on a slum. The November light was passing into early twilight.

“You,” said LeVallon abruptly, turning round and staring at Devonham, “make everything seem unreal to me. I do not understand you. You know so much. Why is so little real to you?”

But Devonham, in the act of getting out of the car, made no reply, and probably had not heard the words, or, if he had heard, thought them more suitable for Fillery.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31